A dispute over UK government-sanctioned torture has harmed hopes of a Northern Ireland political deal, representatives of Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) warn. The High Court in Belfast ordered the 1971 ‘Hooded Men’ torture case re-opened.
The High Court said on Friday that the Police Service Northern Ireland’s (PSNI) original investigation, which ended in 2014, was “seriously flawed” because it had not considered criminal charges in a case that clearly involved illegal conduct by the British government. The judgment raises the possibility that Lord Carrington, the former British defense secretary who is now 98, could be interviewed by police over allegations that he authorized torture in Northern Ireland.
Fourteen men were interned in Northern Ireland in 1971. They said they were taken to a secret site in rural Derry and subjected to experimental torture techniques in an attempt to get them to confess to crimes relating to the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
The men said they were forced to listen to constant loud static noise, deprived of sleep, food and water, forced to stand in a stress position, and beaten if they fell. They also said they were hooded and thrown from helicopters. Although the helicopters were near ground level, the men had been told they were hundreds of feet in the air.
The surviving members of the group went to the High Court seeking a judicial review of the PSNI’s decision to end its investigation. The PSNI had said there was not enough evidence to warrant an investigation.
According to the Times, DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said it was “sickening and unbalanced and unfair” that Carrington was under judicial scrutiny while “senior IRA members were in government in Stormont.”
“Where is the High Court demand for prosecution from the many, many documents showing that Sinn Fein leaders were in the IRA? Their victims cry out for justice and yet nothing happens. IRA members are walking around demanding all this scrutiny on the state without any investigation into their actions,” he said.
He added that the DUP would work “down to the last minute” to reach an agreement on restoring devolved government on Monday, but that Sinn Fein’s support for the investigation of elderly statesmen showed the urgent need for legacy legislation in the House of Commons.
Barry McElduff, a Sinn Fein MP, said that interviewing Lord Carrington and others was justified if it led to “truth and justice.”
It is possible that due to the dispute, and disagreements about a proposed Irish-language act, meant Monday’s deadline for restoring the Stormont executive would pass without an agreement.
Northern Ireland has been without a devolved regional administration since January, raising the prospect of direct rule being re-imposed from London, potentially destabilizing a delicate political balance in the British province.
There were reports over the weekend that if power-sharing collapsed the Conservative government may not follow through on its pledge to commit £1 billion (US$1.32 billion) in extra funding for Northern Ireland, which was part of its confidence and supply arrangement with the DUP.